Boy Erased

by Garrard Conley

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How does Boy Erased address Christian fundamentalism and conversion therapy?

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The memoir portrays Christian fundamentalism and the use of conversion therapy as invasive and restrictive.

The first chapter opens in Love in Action (LIA), a conversion therapy program. Garrard Conley presents the process as intrusive and highly regulated. His mom can’t see the space nor communicate with him as outside communication is restricted. They search his phone and wallet, and ask personal questions about the nature of his relationships with other men. Later, the sharp invasiveness that defines the program continues when Conley is forced to answer a graphic question about how he’ll spend a hypothetical Saturday. His portrayal, however, is not entirely negative. There are some lighter descriptions, like when Conley describes LIA members as a “family” that “could tolerate the idiosyncrasies” of their eating habits.

As for Christian fundamentalism, the memoir portrays it as deeply restrictive. The church condemns simple things like Harry Potter, is weary of dancing, and prohibits classical musicians like Bach. Additionally, it is presented as somewhat apocalyptic, as the second chapter begins with talk of the end times. Of course, Conley’s portrait of Christian fundamentalism isn’t entirely negative. Yes, he mocks it in college. However, Conley writes,

“It was also true that coming home often made me feel, if not proud of my heritage, then at least grateful for its familiarity.”

Conley's memoir reflects the complexities of his life, caught between two worlds that struggle for coexistence. Boy Erased addresses the incredibly negative aspects of his painful experiences with conversion therapy and fundamental Christianity, while also providing a lens of personal experience that offers nuance and tension.

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